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Progressive Christianity

Overview. Who are progressives? An analogy.

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Progressive Christianity is not a denomination. It has no central authority. It consists of:

bullet A Christian wing within Unitarian Universalism
bullet Organizations promoting a network of affiliated congregations, informal groups and individuals.
bullet Some independent congregations
bullet Individuals within liberal, mainline and even a few conservative congregations.
bullet Websites and blogs of all types.
bullet Authors

Progressives tend to:

bullet Stress social justice matters and civil rights concerns, including equality of opportunity and treatment for persons of all genders, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc.
bullet Oppose war as a solution to international conflicts.
bullet Minimize the importance of religious dogma, church creeds, and religious traditions.
bullet Promote the separation of religion and government (a.k.a. church and state)

The Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC) 1 is one of the leading groups promoting a network of progressives.  It was founded in 1996 by a retired Episcopalian priest, James Adams, in Cambridge, MA.

In an era where the loudest and most visible Christian voices are from fundamentalist and other Evangelical denominations and para-church organizations, the mission of The Center for Progressive Christianity is:

bullet "To reach out to those for whom organized religion has proved ineffectual, irrelevant, or repressive, as well as to those who have given up on or are unacquainted with it."
bullet "To uphold evangelism as an agent of justice and peace."
bullet "To give a strong voice both in the churches and the public arena to the advocates of progressive Christianity. "
bullet "To support those who embrace the search, not certainty." 2

These mission statements would probably resonate with many progressive Christians.

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What kind of people are attracted to Progressive Christianity?

Progressive Christianity casts a very broad tent. Within the TCPC, for example, all people are welcome as affiliates. Their fourth point invites:

"....all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to): believers and agnostics, conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, women and men, those of all sexual orientations and gender identities, those of all races and cultures, those of all classes and abilities, those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope."

Most progressive Christians probably view religious belief as a process -- a searching for truth rather than establishing truth. Most are probably liberal Christians or post-Christians who stress justice and tolerance above creedal beliefs.

They include people who:

bullet Are repelled by exclusivist beliefs. They reject the concept that only their branch of their religion has the entire monopoly on truth, and that all other spiritual paths are in error. Passing beyond biblical inerrancy, established creeds, and church dogma, they recognize, as author Jack Good has written: "the fingerprints of humankind on all religious documents and symbols." 3
bullet Value the search for truth, even though it can never be fully possessed. They view it as more important and challenging than the acceptance of those fixed beliefs found in the past by others and imbedded in church creeds.
bullet Who are, as Jack Good describes, "chaos tolerant:" They can handle a degree of disorder, uncertainty, and ambiguity in life and want to be "partners in the exciting search for tentative but satisfying answers to the most pressing problems of existence."
bullet Believe in the Ethic of Reciprocity a.k.a. the Golden Rule: that how we treat other people is more important than the specifics of what we believe about God, humanity and the rest of the universe.
bullet Have the ability to absorb rapid change in their beliefs, as they integrate findings from social and physical sciences.

An analogy:

On the TCPC web site, they have a charming story that symbolizes the methodology of the Progressive Christianity movement. It involves a Sunday school teacher and a class of 9 or 10-year-olds. Even at that age, some were skeptical of the inerrancy of the Bible. They felt that many events recorded in the Bible never happened. Rather then try to convince the children otherwise, the teacher suggested that they read Charlotte's Web instead -- an enduring story of a bashful pig named Wilbur who befriended a spider named Charlotte. The class enjoyed the book. After some great discussions, the teacher interjected the thought that pigs and spiders cannot talk. The kids protested: "Well, it's a story." The teacher asked whether the story was true. They decided that it was sort of true. "In a way, it was true." So the teacher suggested: "All right, well let's look at the Bible in the same way." 4

For the movement's founder, James Adams:

 "Such open-ended and searching conversations are at the heart of what it means to be religious. They are the very thing he hopes to foster through the work of his small, but visionary organization. Education is at the core of the Center's work, but it is a vision of education that calls for open-ended conversation, the use of scholarship and intellectual gifts, as well as personal experience and emotion."


  1. Progressive Christianity movement's home page is at: Their address is The Center for Progressive Christianity, 4916 Pt. Fosdick Dr., NW  #148, Gig Harbor, WA  98335. Telephone: 253-303-0022. E-mail:
  2. "The mission of the Center for Progressive Christianity is..." at:
  3. Jack Good, "The Dishonest Church" Rising Star Press, (2003). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  4. E.B. White, "Charlotte's Web," HarperTrophy, (reprinted 1999). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  5. "The 8 points: 2003 version," at:

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Copyright ? 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-SEP-28
Latest update: 2009-NOV-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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